Synopses & Reviews
Ben Wilson's The Making of Victorian Values is the history of an era rather like our own-a time when dissenters and rebels were hemmed in by conformists and hardheaded authoritarians, a time when a nation on the eve of global domination fretted about its future. It was, however, a period when those who argued that a British empire would be a disaster for liberty were eventually squashed by imperialists, just as those who railed against mindless materialism were in the end rolled over by industrialists and the promoters of luxury goods. The Making of Victorian Values reveals an era when people were obsessed with the need to appear authentic, and yet forever had doubts about who was and who wasn't-concerns familiar to the "me" age we know so well.
Wilson begins with the libertine spirit inspired by Byron, Shelley, and the Romantics; he ends with the rise and eventual victory of stolid middle-class values. The result is a radical tour de force, a brilliant reworking of the pre-Victorian age. Once portrayed by Paul Johnson in his bestselling The Birth of the Modern as the years when virtue finally trumped corruption, Wilson reveals a far more compelling story-and a more engrossing and scandalous one, too. It is a story about hypochondriacs and cranks, killjoys and dandies, rakes and priests, advocates of free-speech and those against it-people who were made awe struck by Britain's emerging role as the economic and political powerhouse of the world, but who were also deeply anxious about the responsibilities a vast empire might require.
Wilson is heir to the great radical historians of the twentieth century, E. J. Hobsbawm and E. P. Thompson, among them. He brushes aside scholarly politesse and refuses to join in unnecessary academic point-settling, and his invigorating literary abilities will win many admirers who would otherwise know this history only through the works of nineteenth-century fiction.
"In this stimulating cultural history, Britain starts out vulgar, drunken, plain-spoken, unruly and sexually relaxed, but ends up prim, abstemious, euphemistic, conformist and sexually repressed a reversal that was bitterly contested at every step. British historian Wilson links the sea change to fears of French invasion, domestic revolution and the demands of a burgeoning but unstable industrial capitalism. In response to these upheavals, he contends, a Scroogeian alliance of evangelical philanthropists, secular utilitarians and free-market ideologues blamed individual moral turpitude for crime, poverty and social turmoil, insisting that only imposed values of sexual propriety, hard work, self-denial and refined manners could save society. But creeping Victorianism, Wilson notes, was resisted by populists, Romantics and those 'nostalgic for the free and easy, tolerant and gregarious culture of previous generations.' These resisters denounced moral reformers as snobs, joyless Puritans, bullies and champions of a hypocritical 'age of cant.' Wilson's heart is with these dissidents, though his head doesn't entirely reject high-minded proto-Victorian impulses. He traces the conflict through a discursive, elegantly written survey of a wide range of subjects, from quack patent medicines to aristocratic sex scandals to London theater riots. The result is an insightful portrait of a culture war that's strongly reminiscent of modern-day America's. Photos." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
A history of pre-Victorian England likens elements of the period to those of today's world, in an account that cites the contributions of Romantic authors, profiles the role of imperialism, and traces Britain's influence as an economic and political power. By the author of The Triumph of Laughter.
In this history of the pre-Victorian era, Wilson begins with the libertine spirit inspired by Byron, Shelley, and the Romantics; and ends with the rise and eventual victory of stolid middle-class values. The result is a radical tour de force, a brilliant reworking of the pre-Victorian age.
About the Author
Ben Wilson is a graduate of Cambridge University and the author of The Triumph of Laughter: William Hone and the Fight for The Free Press, published in the UK in 2005.